Animal Component Free: UPSIDE’s Cell Feed Breakthrough Levels Up the Future of Cultivated Meat - UPSIDE Foods

Animal Component Free: UPSIDE’s Cell Feed Breakthrough Levels Up the Future of Cultivated Meat

December 9, 2021

by Dr. Kevin Kayser

Real meat without animals. It’s an inspiring vision that offers incredible upside for the world – environmental, animal welfare, human health, taste, and biodiversity, to name a few. Ever since UPSIDE Foods (previously known as Memphis Meats) was founded in 2015, kicking off the cultivated meat industry, we knew that developing animal-free production methods was one of the most significant technical hurdles we would need to overcome.

Today, UPSIDE Foods is announcing that we’ve developed a cell feed that is completely animal component free (ACF). 

Let me back-up a moment to describe how cultivated meat is made, and why the cell feed is not always ACF. We start by taking a small sample of healthy animal cells. We then feed them nutrients — which we call “cell feed” — that they would otherwise obtain inside an animal. Cell feed is analogous to the grass or feed that livestock animals would normally eat. The cells grow and multiply in vessels we call cultivators, and ultimately become meat. (For more on what this process looks like, check out our brand new Engineering, Production, and Innovation Center, which we call EPIC.)

Historically, cell feed has contained animal components, like fetal bovine serum or animal proteins. These components are a tried and true source of nutrients for the cells — but they come at a cost. First, they are counter to our mission to promote animal welfare and the environment.  Cell feed represents the largest driver of the environmental footprint for cultivated meat. Second, these animal components are expensive, and there is a limited supply of them on the planet. In fact, cell feed is among the biggest cost drivers for cultivated meat.

We knew since our founding that producing an ACF cell feed was both an immense challenge and a crucial prerequisite to achieving our mission of making meat that is better for the world. So we put together a dream team to focus exclusively on cell feed. This 11-person team includes former leaders from some of the largest biotech companies in the world. Previously, this team developed cost effective cell feed that does not require fetal bovine serum. But they didn’t stop there.

We’re thrilled to announce that we have cracked the code on a completely ACF cell feed. And because we weren’t satisfied with just pushing the envelope on our cell feed, we decided to demonstrate that our ACF cell feed can produce delicious, craveable products. We recently debuted our ACF-cultivated meat with our team in the form of chicken nuggets and hot dogs. Our team’s reaction upon trying the hot dog? “Bring on the baseball game!” 

These products represent a transformational shift in our food system towards a universal UPSIDE. More specifically, they represent:

UPSIDE for Animals: ACF cell feed means we can fully realize our ambitions to promote animal welfare by removing animals from our supply chain. 

UPSIDE for the Planet: Not relying on animal components means not relying on an agricultural system that is a leading cause of climate change and resource depletion. Cell feed will be the biggest contributor to cultivated meat’s environmental footprint, so optimizing its efficiency will be crucial for maximizing our positive impact on the planet.

UPSIDE for Consumers: Eliminating animal components means reducing cost and increasing our ability to scale. In other words: our products will be more affordable and more accessible because of this development. And of course, we can do it all without sacrificing our products’ deliciousness! 

So far, we’ve used our ACF feed to produce select chicken products. Next up: adapt our ACF cell feed to work across our entire product portfolio.

Of course, all of this is in service of bringing mouth-watering products to consumers as soon as possible. With the recent grand opening of EPIC, our partnership with 3-Michelin Star chef Dominique Crenn, and our hiring of Bob Kiss as our Executive Vice President of Technical Operations, we are full steam ahead towards commercialization. 

At UPSIDE, we’re doing big things with small cells. Making our cell feed animal component free was one of the key milestones to making cultivated meat a force for good. The world is ready for a new paradigm of meat production. And now, we are too.